Packaged Snacks: Definitely Hygienic but are they safe?

Lata Jain

General Mills pledged to remove synthetic ingredients from its cereals, following similar commitments from companies such as Nestle, Hershey, Kraft and Pepsi, appears to be a sign of the times. For the first time since packaged foods took the American homes by storm in the 1950s, large food brands are losing market share to small, specialty and organic companies.

lata jain

Lata Jain

After the recent Maggi uproar, we are all a bit more conscious of convenience foods but the problem is far bigger than that and getting one product off the market won’t fix the situation. Packaged foods have now become a staple in our diet.  We have given up questioning the contents of these fine little packs and are constantly looking for packaged snacks at the lowest possible prices.  This kind of easily enticed and passive consumer behavior can have a detrimental impact on the quality of products that come into the market.

When children have behavioral issues at home or school, parents may want to investigate sensitivities to food dyes. Artificial food dyes are a common ingredient in many foods such as fruit juices, spaghetti sauce or candy that are consumed on a daily basis by children. Parents are frequently unaware that many packaged foods have color additives that cause adverse effects.

There are various symptoms that parents will observe in children with sensitivities to food dyes. In a school environment, a child may have difficulty focusing on tasks or sitting still. While other students in a classroom will concentrate, a child with food sensitivities might constantly fidget or talk. The disruptive behavior frequently leads these students to poor academic performance and disciplinary action.

When we spot a new snack, we try it and if we like it, we share it with our family and friends and before you know it, together we consume our favorite snack in bulk.  Since these snacks are well packaged and seem hygienic we assume they are safe enough to eat.  In essence we have handed over our food safety to an industry whose sole purpose is to ensure profitability and constant growth at the least possible price

A young class 12 student Rekha Vegesna of a leading college in Hyderabad was keen to do something on this issue and decided to research on various products. Rekha does research on azo dyes and runs an awareness campaign called “Flip That Pack” on the health impact of food colorings used in packaged foods.  Flip That Pack is now active in 6 countries, US, Zimbabwe, Japan, Israel, Pakistan and China and is fast growing.

The mouth watering thick reddish-yellow color we associate with chips, paneer tikka, melted cheese or cheese dusting may actually be the color of Tartrazine, a lemon yellow azo dye with carcinogenic effects and a major suspect in the hyperactive behavior of children.  The thirst quenching look of blue sports drinks may be from Blue #1, a dye banned in Norway, Finland and France, but these products are all over our supermarkets.  The list simply goes on and on. Flip a few snack packs and you can spot tartrazine, blue 1 or yellow #6 in the ingredient list.

So then why isn’t anyone doing anything about it?  A blanket ban on all dyes and additives is hard to bring about.  Bans on specific additives are in place in some countries but that does not suffice.  A conclusive study on the impact to human health is very subjective and very time consuming.  Many of the food additives at the permitted levels do not show conclusive evidence with particular symptoms or ailments but predispose the person to other allergies or organ damage that further depend on the consumption of other additives. Therefore regulation, has at best been able to mandate manufacturers to list the additives on the packs and set permissible limits on their use.

Well, it is evident that the risk is high and regulation is low and has a long way to go. And since the packages are listing the contents for the consumer awareness becomes the key, we need to read the labeling and make the right choice.  It is clear that food safety and regulatory authorities have bestowed the power of choice back into the hands of the consumer.  Our choice can make a difference, – both to our health and to the quality of products that hit the markets.

For those health conscious and concerned about their children’s healthy upbringing please do  visit www.flipthatpack.com

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